Thursday, January 25, 2007


A friend once told me that he considered school to be a prison for children.

When I thought about it, it did seem like a good analogy.

Schools are a convenient way of incarcerating those pesky five to seventeen year olds during the waking hours of each weekday.

It is a reverse of those day release programmes they have in real prisons.

By the age of about five, children have stopped taking those refreshing naps (refreshing for the parents, that is) and they begin whining about being bored, start to raid the kitchen cupboards for junk food, and they find it entertaining to fight with siblings and pets.

These days the only way to get any kind of peace is to invest your hard earned money into expensive electrical items such as large screen TVs, DVD players, and home computers choking with game programmes.

Then there are the video game consoles and Ipods and any other “must-have” toy being flogged by cunning advertising agencies (a.k.a. devils in disguise).

And we all know just how much added expense this technology will mean when you have to feed it with the latest game programmes, DVDs, CDs, Internet downloads etc.

It is little wonder that, years ago, some grown-up invented compulsive schooling under the pretence that once little children reached five years of age they needed to learn important stuff.

And the clever part of this plan was that the children needed to leave the family home to learn this important stuff.

When I began school (just a few years after the Ice Age melted), it was compulsory to attend seven years at primary school and then three years at high school.

After that you either entered the workforce or continued on for another two years at high school to qualify for university or a technical college.

In more recent times, this ten year sentence has been increased to thirteen years as kiddies in Queensland are expected to continue to year twelve (or equivalent) with a recently added preparatory year before year one.

Yes, committing severe crimes in the adult world will result in lesser sentences in prison.

My dislike of school began at a very early age.

Apparently, during my first week of school, my teacher approached my mother to inform her that, although I was participating in and completing the required schoolwork, I was doing so whilst crying quietly.

Of course I would be crying! Any sensitive child would cry.

I had spent the first five and a bit years of my life playing unhindered and happily in the comfort of my own home with my mother preparing meals for me as needed.

My mother even went one step further in enriching my preschool years by kindly presenting me with a baby sister to entertain and to torment.

Then for no apparent reason, except as some inexplicable punishment for having too much fun, I was put in a prison uniform, handed a little school bag containing a plastic lunch box and dropped off at a large “educational” facility filled with strangers.

It must have been traumatic as I have vivid memories of that first school room. If I were to return to that Brisbane institution tomorrow, I would be able to walk directly to that room (a.k.a. prison cell) and point out the very position of my desk.

I don’t remember the tears but I suspect that they were an involuntary response to my trauma and they simply slipped out of my large blue-green eyes and rolled down my chubby cheeks and on to my wooden school desk.

I do remember the little wooden desk and the smell of the Clag glue as I pasted the various shapes of coloured paper onto a large sheet of paper.

Because my family shifted residences a few times, I had to change primary schools four times.

I can still recall that hollow feeling in my stomach as I would turn up to yet another institution filled with strangers and hope that I would eventually find a friend to play with during the morning tea and lunch breaks. It would happen but not for a week or so.

My favourite times at primary school were the art lessons, the swimming lessons and the Friday afternoon sport.

Other then art, swimming lessons and sport, my next favourite school activity was watching the hands on the school room clock turn oh so slowly about its face.

I am sure that those school room clocks took 120 minutes to reach an hour.

Fortunately I was good at sport which meant that I would be able to escape school lessons on Friday afternoons to play netball and softball against a team of kids from some neighbouring school.

More importantly, it meant that I was not locked up in that hot box of a school room with sweaty, smelly peers and those less than enthusiastic teachers.

Yes, we did it tough back then in the sweltering Queensland days of summer. Winter wasn’t much cooler either come to think of it.

We had bare wooden floors and a couple of windows pushed ajar in the hope of catching a passing breeze. No wonder concentration waned and teachers’ tempers rose.

I vividly recall one episode in Year 7. A disruptive boy (there is always a disruptive boy in any school room about this planet) was testing the patience of our normally placid male teacher. After a number of warnings, the boy was told by the teacher that if he was to disrupt the class once more, our very tall and muscular teacher would throw the boy out of our classroom window.

Well of course the boy disrupted the class once again. Our teacher, true to his word, marched down the school room, grabbed the boy by the pants and shirt and carried him towards one of the open windows. The class watched in astonishment. We were all aware that our classroom was on the second floor of the building and therefore we knew that our classmate was about to suffer some sort of injury once he hit the ground below.

As our teacher reached the open window he seemed to hesitate for a moment. Somewhere within him sanity must have kicked in and he swivelled on his rubber soled shoes and carted the boy towards the classroom door and dropped him outside the room onto the verandah.

I think I can speak for all of our Year 7 class when I report, decades later, that we were more than a little relieved.

Compared to my primary school experiences, my children were pampered beyond belief. They had air-conditioned class rooms, carpet on the floor, a refrigerator for their lunch boxes and it seemed like they were forever on some sort of interesting excursion away from the classroom.

And, what is more worrying for me as a parent, they seemed to be happy to leave home and go off to prison, I mean, school.

Monday, January 01, 2007


There has been an unhappy turn of events in our calm and contented herd of Herefords.

We have seven cows wandering freely about the farm, taking their time to stop and stare and contemplate the beauty of their surrounds whilst they chew their cud.

Regrettably, we have been forced to imprison our lone male calf named Pod.

Never before in the history of our herd have we had to take such drastic action against one of our own.

Pod is a trouble maker.

I do suspect that he may have brain damage. Perhaps, whilst his mother Hef was birthing him, he suffered some loss of oxygen to the brain which has affected that part of his brain which controls his ability to act like a normal bovine.

Let me tell you what has transpired.

Since his birth, Pod happily followed the herd and he would play the usual poddy games with his devoted mother. Hef would willingly let him suckle well beyond the usual weaning time and she would constantly lick about his body to make sure he was properly groomed and comforted by the fact that his mother loved him.

Whenever he and the herd came near the house we would call out a friendly greeting such as: “Hello Pod. How are you going?”

I now realise, far too late, that his reaction to our greetings should have signalled trouble. Pod would lift his head with startled curiosity in our direction when he should have simply tossed us an indifferent glance like the rest of the girls.

As he reached his first birthday we became aware of just how badly his behaviour had escalated.

Pod cannot be contained within fences. Also he is incapable of comfortably handling the presence of human beings anywhere within one hundred feet of his personal space.

We slowly realised that Pod had no respect for any form of fencing. If it was a three strand barbed wire fence he would simply step through the wires. If it was a single wire electrified fence, he had no problems pushing through and breaking the wire despite the shocking consequences.

Normally a jolt of electricity on a moist nose is enough to create a respect within bovines for that pulsing piece of wire for life.

Not Pod!

But we did wonder if there was some sort of cow conspiracy going on.

Did the girls get together, sans his mother Hef, and decide, “Look. He is a mere male. The pain will be temporary. There will be no permanent consequences. So let’s coax him close to the electric fence. Then let’s all surge forward and push him towards it and his body will break it and we will be free to roam that grass which is always greener on the other side of the fence.”

We didn’t have any evidence of this mobbing of Pod but we remained suspicious as more and more fence-breaking incidences began to occur.

Things came to a head six weeks ago as the feed started to disappear and the cows looked longingly, not just over the internal fences of the property, but at the crops growing in our neighbours’ paddocks.

One morning, after our goodbyes, I heard my daughter’s car return to the house with horn beeping and engine revving.

She had found our herd, led by Pod, heading towards the open front gate which led across a main road to the neighbour’s paddock of cow feed.

It appeared that, once again, Pod had broken a fence to allow the rest of the herd in a forbidden area of the farm.

Well, that was it. Something needed to be done.

To make it worse it was a day when we were all going to be away from the farm and unable to keep surveillance on the escapees.

So, as I left for work, I shut the front gate knowing that it was only a temporary barrier given Pod’s total disrespect of any fence and the boundary fence would be no exception.

We had to wait until day’s end before the family returned to organise a permanent solution for Pod’s Houdini behaviour.

That afternoon the decision was made to separate Pod from the herd and to lock him in the yards until we could ready him for the cattle sale.

Clearly he was uncontrollable.

It was very disappointing because, over the years, our girls have always been very tame. They knew when they had done something wrong and, when we would chase them back from trouble towards home, they would readily and, somewhat guiltily, return to the holding yards.

The making of the decision to get Pod into the yards was easy. Carrying out this decision was a gargantuan feat to which, unfortunately, I was not a witness.

The getting of Pod into the yards fell on the ingenuity of the spouse and the son.

As the men gently headed the willing herd toward the yards, Pod baulked and he decided to make a break. He took a left hoof turn, scampering through the stand of trees below the house and the cattle yard and he headed south-east towards the freedom of the acres of open ploughed paddocks.

A quick plan was devised to despatch the son in the four-wheel drive Ute to chase after Pod. The plan was to let Pod run free for a while so that he would get exhausted and then the Ute would overtake him and turn him back and guide him towards the yards.

At first the plan seemed to work. Pod galloped wild and free for a while and then the son caught up to him and he turned Pod back towards the yards.

As Pod turned and galloped in the reverse direction, all seemed to be going to plan until Pod faltered a little due to fatigue and he decided to take a stand.

Pod stopped, propped and turned to face the oncoming Ute. The son slowed to a stop and waited. Pod eyed his enemy and then lowered his head, kicked up the dirt with his front hooves and charged the Ute, head-butting the left hand side of the vehicle leaving a section of the front fender badly dented.

Having taken his revenge on his pursuer, Pod turned and headed north east in the general direction of the yards. The son followed in the Ute hoping to steer him towards the yards.

Because I was not there, I am not sure just how they managed to get him into the yards. I don’t think they can even remember how it happened either because it was a long afternoon dealing with an unpredictable and obviously deranged calf.

The best recollection is that an exhausted Pod headed back towards the stand of trees and sulked for a while. Then, because of the expert cattle handling skills of the spouse and the son, they managed to coax the faltering Pod towards the yards.

Perhaps the presence of the tame herd mustered near the yards was a calming influence for Pod as he eventually joined them.

One thing I know for certain is that it was a betrayal of one of the herd that led to his eventual imprisonment.

Apparently, whilst trying to coax him into the yards, Pod tried to make yet another break from the holding yards but one of the cows managed to nudge him towards the yards and he was accidently bumped into the confines of our very secure yards.

Who knows whether it was yet another cow conspiracy?

Once confined, we realised that Pod was a truly crazy animal. Having had his vast experience of escaping fences by mere force, Pod decided to charge at the sturdy metal rails of the yards in the hope of breaking out. This behaviour, plus the injuries of his attack of the Ute, left him with bleeding welts.

Now, animal lovers, remember that all these injuries were self inflicted. And, if we were to have let him have his way and let him walk off the property and on to the main road, he may well have ended up as a bloody trophy on the front bumper of a very large truck.

Since his capture, Pod has been living a life of luxury. He is being watered and fed each day. It is costing us a fortune as we have had to buy hay at an inflated price due to the current drought conditions. We have had to wait before sending him away to the sales as the Christmas and New Year season has meant that the cattle sales have gone into semi-hibernation.

And we have not gotten off lightly. Each morning at 4am, Pod will begin to complain about his imprisonment using his plaintive “moo” again and again and again as he calls for his now disinterested mother and the rest of the herd.

When we go to feed him, Pod will cower at the furthest point of the yards and then lower his head and alternatively dig each front hoof into the dirt as a warning that he will soon charge at the fence and us.

Pod’s temporary imprisonment may be unsettling for him but it is more unsettling for us as we have to pay for his expensive tucker and suffer his most unwelcome early morning “moos”.

Next challenge for us will be to ready him for sale. Yes, there has been a very, very unhappy turn of events.